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Remembering Dreams

It probably goes without saying (so, of course, I’m going to say it), that there is little to be
done with your dreams if you don’t remember them when you wake up.  It’s not difficult, but
for most of us remembering our night time adventures is not a regular occurrence.  To make
this recall steadily repeatable you’ll want to make a few changes to the habits that surround
your sleep schedule.  Do these few things and you’ll be remembering dreams like a pro in
no time.
Christian Dreaming
Bringing sleep into your spiritual practice
Home > Articles > Dream Work > Remembering Dreams
Another lifestyle change that encourages strong dreaming involves diet.  It’s simple, so don’t
Many people make their last meal the largest meal of the day – the result being they go
through their most physically involved part of the day with the least amount of fuel, then load
up the calories just as their body reduces what it’s asking for, effectively swamping our
system.  Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?  Of course, this is the result of the same kind of busy
lifestyle that makes getting enough sleep difficult.  So many of us are so ‘on the go’ all the
time we slam down a quick breakfast and lunch, leaving us famished and feeling starved by
the evening, unable to stop ourselves from gorging at night.  The end result is a heavy,
sluggish mental state through the night leaving you with dark, poorly remembered dreams.  
Going to bed with less in your stomach to be digested seems to let us sleep lightly,
producing more coherent and easily remembered dreams.

If you need another reason to do this, many exercise trainers suggest variations on this
notion.  You’ll hear things like ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and eat dinner like a
pauper’, and ‘don’t eat anything after 6:00 PM’, touting this as an easy way to lose weight.
I’m neither dietitian nor doctor, so I can’t verify this, but it’s another possible benefit to bear
in mind as you think about this change in your personal habits.

Once you’ve established the habits that make it easier to actually have dreams, the next
thing to tackle is remembering them.  The good news is remembering our dreams is not
difficult; for most, simply desiring to remember them will bring at least one dream to light the
next morning.  The trick is to keep the content from evaporating soon after waking.  

A couple of simple tools and a couple more habits will soon have you dreaming more than
you might have believed possible.  Get your hands on a small notebook (I prefer something
in the 5”x3” neighborhood with a spiral bound top or spine) and a pen.  If you can find a pen
that lights up a little bit, so much the better, but it’s not necessary.  As you settle in for bed
have your notebook open to the page you want to record your dreams, and date it.  Repeat
to yourself several times “tonight I will remember my dreams and record them as soon as I
wake”.  Really mean it – saying it mechanically won’t result in much recall or recording.  

When you wake up, whatever time that might be, make no movement with your body and
review what you recall of your dreams.  Physical activity starts the process of erasing your
dreams, so the less you do before you have your impressions corralled, the better.  With
those impressions in hand, quickly write down in your journal the key words that describe the
activity, the characters, and the emotions you recall.  Don’t worry about a full narrative; once
you have the basic idea down it’s normally pretty easy to recall the surrounding detail when
you record a full recount the next morning.  At the same time, understand sometimes all you
are going to get is a small suggestion of a dream – a face, an emotion, some kind of setting
– and that’s it.  That’s alright, too.  The more you record, the more detail will start to show up
without a struggle.

The last element of this recording process is less critical in its impact on remembering
dreams, but is very helpful when it comes to gleaning information from them.  Periodically
review your dreams to see if you identify any recurrent themes and/or images.  The benefit
is multifold: you communicate to your unconscious mind you are taking what it says
seriously, you can map out areas of concern or challenge you might not even have been
aware of, and you can start to get a sense for your own internal language.  These are all
pretty much standard psychological benefits, but they reflect well on the process of bringing
this effort to the life of the spirit.  

Next: Encouraging coherent dreams
Ready for your first change?  Here it
is: get some sleep!  According to a
2001 survey on American sleep
habits, adults average 7 hours of
sleep per night during the week.  The
weekend average goes up to not
quite 8 over the weekend.  Generally
this is the result of having lots of
things to get done.  There’s nothing
wrong with this level of industry,
though it reflects a broad cultural
bias toward outward activity over
internal pursuits.  It’s difficult to
imagine a more internal pursuit than
sleep, and bragging about how little
you sleep will usually get a better
response at work than bragging
about how much you sleep.  
Unfortunately, if you want to have
and remember more dreams, you'll
just have to get used to it.

There are a couple of different ways
of approaching this.  Around my
house, the only good way of getting
more sleep during the work week is
by going to bed earlier.  For others,
you might sleep longer in the
morning, try and fit in some nap time,
or focus your efforts on the
weekend.  The bottom line is that for
quality attention to dreaming you will
likely need between 8 and 9 hours of

The reason for this concern is our
shared human sleep cycle.  Without
going into great detail, it’s important
to know the bulk of our dreaming
activity takes place after about six
hours of sleep.  Before that
threshold, there are dreams, but they
tend toward being shorter and less
clear than those in the last two hours
of an 8 hour night.  
The magic of getting sleep

dreamers’ that I have known in my life.  One is my
very good friend, Kevin Smith (not the
actor/director/writer).  While it’s not a very evolved
response, I found myself regularly drooling over
his nocturnal life while we were both in college.  It
seemed that every night, while I was functionally
unconscious, he was living out wonderful
adventures through vivid and well recalled
dreams.  Flying about, terrific martial arts fight
scenes, emotional drama, even having normally
elusive lucid dreams.  You name it, he was
dreaming it.  

What was his secret?  He got loads of sleep!  His
class schedule was intentionally put together so
he could sleep in and he took advantage in a big
way.  Often getting 9 or 10 hours of solid slumber,
his dreaming mind was working overtime.  Paired
with a natural interest in the dreaming experience
his years at St John’s University were a great
oneironautic* voyage, in addition to the normal
benefits of higher education.

Of course, he did eventually get his sheepskin,
and the sleep schedule hasn’t been the same
since.  He tells me that now, two decades later, his
dream recall is quite a bit less vivid than in school,
though he can still have some good ones if his
family lets him get more than 7 hours on the
weekend.  The moral of the story?  If you want to
bring your spiritual exploration to the world of
dreams, get your sleep!

oneironaut is a term coined by sleep and dream
researcher Stephen LaBerge, derived from the
Greek word oneiro, which means dreams, and
naute, which means sailor.  See the
recommended reading list for books by Dr.